Thursday, September 14, 2006

Is It Time for Women Bishops in the C of E?

Last night, I was at a debate with that title, which was organised by the Chester Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship. Ian Enticott (Kelsall) spoke for, Simon Gales (Lindow) spoke against, Donald Allister (archdeacon) spoke about the current situation and the way forwards. Mike Smith (Hartford) chaired the meeting.

I'm not going to report exactly what was said - it's not really my style. I'm going to synthesise and reflect a bit too...

Points of Agreement

It was generally agreed that, as evangelicals, the key question was whether women bishops were permitted by the Bible. The main speakers also agreed on the key passages, partularly 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14. They also agreed that women should be allowed and encouraged to take some positions of responsibility within the church, for example praying or prophesying in the congregation (1 Cor 11:5) or deacon (whatever that is, Rom 16:1). Both agreed that in 1 Timothy 2, Paul's command to let women learn in v11 was the main shock for the original readers, though disagreed with the significance of v12 in that light. Both also agreed that Jesus appointing only male disciples did not lead to a solid argument against women bishops, and both agreed that if women presbyters should be allowed, so should women bishops be, with Mr Gales saying the ordination of women to the presbyterate had been a mistake. The debate was conducted in a friendly and polite way.

Arguments for Women Bishops

Mr Enticott spent some time looking at 1 Tim 2:11-12, specifically highlighting that both "woman" and "man" were singular (and why should this be so if Paul is commanding a general men over women thing?) and that they could be equally well translated "husband" and "wife". He also highlighted that "exercise authority over" is not the usual Biblical word for "authority" and might well be better translated "lord it over".

Furthermore, he pointed out a number of women in leadership positions in the early church, including Priscilla correcting Apollos in Acts 18:26 and seeming to take more of a leadership role than her husband Aquila. He also mentioned Junais and Pheobe in Romans 16, drawing attention to the fact that Pheobe takes the masculine form of the word "deacon", suggesting that male titles could be and were used of women in the Church.

He then went on to a much weaker (in my opinion) section, where he argued from Galatians 3, etc, that there is no male or female in Christ and that we all, men and women are sons of God. I know it's a commonly used argument, but it's pretty clear that it's referring to salvation, where God makes no distinction between men and women, but that while men and women are equal, we aren't identical (as the sections in the NT on marriage show). His most interesting comment was that the male/female distinction doesn't exist in terms of the Holy Spirit, which would probably repay a little more thought.

He then went on more briefly to look at 1 Corinthians 11, where he questioned the nature of headship, specifically showing it involved an element of equality, and then 1 Corinthians 14:34, where he showed the word "silent" was used in the passage not for permanant silence, but for being quiet when someone else was speaking.

My Reflections

I think that Mr Enticott might have fallen slightly too much for the equal = identical mistake. Specifically, the way he worded things made it look as if he advocated men and women having identical roles in the church and in marriage, and he didn't provide an adequate explanation of the nature of headship in 1 Corinthians 11. We all agree (or should) that men and women are equal; the question is whether both can be bishops, which is altogether different. He was also sometimes slightly too quick to jump to his conclusion. For example, in 1 Timothy 2, he went straight from women learning to women therefore being meant to teach men. I didn't get that conceptual leap at all. On the other hand, I thought some of his arguments were good - particularly in terms of 1 Timothy 2.

Part 2...

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